It was one of those January days when everything seems layered in shades of white: a moody grey-white sky brushed by sparkling white branches covered in fresh snowfall that flutters to the white ground, which is spotted with random footprints before they’re erased hours later.
The snow clings to everything: falling into the irregular groves of tree bark, settling on benches inches thick, balancing on the thin tops of signs that caution “Slippery Walkways” and “Fallen Ice Zone” and on the needles of Evergreens.
Wind creeps into your body from all angles: frozen thighs, tips of fingers white beneath gloves, cheeks so cold they’re numb to the touch. Walking closer, into the freezing mist, eyelids stick together if you blink for a second too long, nostrils stick together if you breathe in too deeply through your nose and you can feel the frigid moisture in every inhalation.
And in Niagara Falls, looking over the gorge to Canada, close to the thundering water that barrels down from the Niagara River, the mist turns solid and wraps around the viewpoints, weighs down the top of street lights, pulling them over, and re-creates the fences in its own winter version. Lampposts become ice sculptures.
“What a severe yet master artist old Winter is…. No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel.” – John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866
Birds swoops down near the water and over our heads. There are other people, but there is a silent stillness that hangs in the air. No matter the number of times I visit, it’s still impressive, still beautiful, still magical – especially in winter.
And later, further up the river, Gratwick Park in North Tonawanda delivers a phenomenal sunset. Besides a local walking a dog and a few cars parked nearby, I have the show to myself. The day sinks into the river over the stage that is Grand Island, until the curtain of night eventually pulls the horizon into darkness.
I crunch over the snow to the river’s edge, scattered with driftwood that’s washed onto the shore over the years, covering frozen fish bones, anchored to the earth with icicles. The light glints yellow through pine branches, through the silhouetted branches of curly willows, against the empty milkweed pods and the spiky thistles and the reeds that waver in the wind.
Behind me in the distance, the ding of a lowering barrier is followed by a clackety-clack of a passing train, the familiar whistle echoing into the neighborhood where I grew up, where this sound was so routine I was able to block it out in my sleep. After nine years of life in London, I notice it again.
In front of me, the water shimmers, still un-frozen. A dark line of trees marks the land on the other side. Red berries hang from branches next to me.
In the summertime, boats will cruise along at this time, a heron might stop for a rest on the rocks. Now, there is only the stillness of winter all around.
“In the stripped trees, the mute birds, the disconsolate gardens, the frosty ground, there is only an apparent cessation of Nature’s activities. Winter is pause in music, but during the pause the musicians are privately tuning their strings, to prepare for the coming outburst.” – Alexander Smith, “Winter,” 1863
And back in London now, the spring is already awakening. There are mystery bulbs popping up in our small garden. The light is lingering a bit later each day. Each morning on my walk to work, I see two early daffodils already holding up their bright yellow flowers to the sky.